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Mercury Mercury is the eighth largest planet in our solar system equaling roughly one-third of Earths size It is also the planet closest to the sun and is often visible with binoculars or even the naked eye Its difficult to see in the twilight sky One of Mercurys most distinguishable features is its rugged surface which is similar to the surface of the Earths moon In Roman mythology Mercury is the god of commerce and thievery He is considered the Roman counterpart of the Greek god Hermes the messenger of the Olympian gods The planet probably received this name because it moves so quickly across the sky Mercury has been known since at least the time of the Sumerians The Greeks gave Mercury two names Apollo for its apparition as a morning star and Hermes as an evening star Greek astronomers knew however that the two names referred to the same body Since Mercury is a smaller planet extremely close to the sun and has no substantial atmosphere it has the greatest temperature range of any planet or natural satellite in our solar system The surface temperature on the side of Mercury closest to the Sun reaches 427 degrees Celsius a temperature hot enough to melt tin On the side facing away from the Sun or the night side the temperature drops to -183 degrees Celsius Scientists have detected a magnetic field surrounding Mercury though it is not as strong as the field around the Earth Scientists theorize that Mercurys field is due to an iron-bearing core or possibly to the solar winds Mercurys atmosphere is very thin and is composed of helium and sodium The surface of Mercury has been shaped by three processes impact cratering where large objects struck the surface resulting in crater formation volcanism where lava flooded the surface and tectonic activity where the planets crust moved in order to adjust to the planetary cooling and contracting
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